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A CurtainUp Review

It's not the darkness we fear, it's the light behind the door. It's — not the answer we can't hear, it's the question we won't ask." Carolyn
Jackie Hansen and Stephanie Cozart (Photo: Ben Hider)
Communion refers to a sharing of ideas between people but also to the Christian ritual of literally accepting the body and blood of Christ. The American premiere at Urban Stages of Communion, is a puzzling play about three women. Their complicated relationships delve into issues of mothers, daughters, loneliness and spiritualism. Written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, this triangular structure shows a major influence of Catholicism.

MacIvor lets the characters' stories evolve over 90 minutes of unsettling silences and verbal outbreaks. A running metaphor is the image of a dark room and a closed door with an edging of light. The women are challenged to push the door and face the light. What is behind the door is the question that no one seems to ask.

We first meet Leda (Stephanie Cozart), a divorced, recovering alcoholic with cancer. She sits huddled in a large sweater and fidgeting through one of her weekly meetings with therapist, Carolyn (Erica Bradshaw) who watches her with stony silence. Carolyn gives no advice, the idea being that the client will be guided from her own words. What we eventually learn is that Carolyn is a lonely lesbian with her own problems.

Leda's problem is contacting and telling her estranged daughter Annie (Jackie Hansen) about her illness, but theirs is a fractured relationship. Annie, once a free-spirit, is now a born-again Christian who was jailed for burning down an abortion clinic. Leda considers herself an atheist but feels she must personally tell Annie about her cancer and repair their relationship. She just cannot get herself to take that first step and wants her therapist, to tell her what to do. Because Carolyn's training tells her to listen, we suffer through long silent gaps between monologues until she relents and, with unprofessional compassion, tells Leda to "Go see Annie."

Leda does visit her daughter who is now married, pregnant and still fervently evangelical. Unlike the first scene where Stephanie Cozart sharply portrays Leda as impatient and sarcastic, here she shows a more likeable Leda. She seems somewhat balanced and is coming to terms with her illness and what may or may not lie ahead. Jackie Hansen's focused Annie, is sternly orthodox, holding onto her longtime resentment of her mother although at one point she urges, "It's time for you to take Christ into your life. He is alive and with us. Pray with me." Leda responds, "I'm not interested in having my soul saved. My soul is fine. It's mine, it's fine, I'll be good with whatever. Leave it be. Really. Promise me. If you love me."

Gail Cooper-Hecht's costuming of mother and daughter emphasizes the expanse between them, Leda, wearing a wig, is neatly dressed in casual slacks and shirt and Annie in a long plain dress with sneakers and white socks. Annie explains, "We wear what the redeemed shall wear."

A questionable third scene comes months later when Annie, now hip and contemporary in shorts and denim, visits her mother's therapist. Carolyn is also dressed down, packing to leave her therapy practice and move out of the city. Both women are showing different sides of themselves and it is unclear what caused these transformations.

MacIvor directs with an often sluggish pace, ending the scenes abruptly and leaving questions about these three lonely people who resist help from each other. As Communion ends, the theme of sharing has been approached but two of the characters remain on their journeys with the dark door before them.

As part of Urban Stages' mission to use theater as a means for conversation and education, there will bea special talkback series by OBIE, GLADD and MacIvor.  This series will include discussions with psychiatrists, therapists and grief counselors to address the issues featured in Communion.  The  Talkback is included with the price of the ticket.

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Playwright and Director: Daniel MacIvor
Cast: Erica Bradshaw, Stephanie Cozart, Jackie Hansen.
Set Design: Frank Oliva
Costume Design: Gail Cooper-Hecht
Lighting Design: Deborah Constantine
Sound Design: Verne Good
Production Stage Manager: Krystle Henninger
Running Time: 90 min. No intermission
Theatre: Urban Stages, 259 West 30 St., NYC 
Tickets: $40 or by phone at 1-866-811-4111
Performances: Tues. Wed. Thurs.: 7pm. Fri., Sat. at 8pm. Sat., Sun. matinees at 3pm.
Previews: 9/30/16. Opens:10/6/16. Closes: 10/30/16
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 10/7/16

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